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General merit of reports.
tic laws and systems, they cannot but excite a stronger interest in the mind of the student; and from their more entire application to our circumstances, they will carry with them the greater authority.
I have now finished a succinct detail of the principal reporters; and when the student has been thoroughly initiated in the elements of legal science, I would strongly recommend them to his notice. The old cases, prior to the year 1688, need only be occasionally consulted, and the leading decisions in them examined. Some of them, however, are
to be deeply explored and studied, and particularly those cases and decisions which have spread their influence far and wide, and established principles which lie at the foundations of English jurisprudence. Such cases have stood the scrutiny of contemporary judges, and been illustrated by succeeding artists, and are destined to guide and control the most distant posterity. The reports of cases since the middle of the last century, ought, in most instances, to be read in course, and they will conduct the student over an immense field of forensic discussion. They contain that great body of the commercial law, and of the law of contracts, and of trusts, which governs at this day. They are worthy of being studied even by scholars of taste and general literature, as being authentic memorials of the business and manners of the age in which they were composed. Law reports are dramatic in their plan and structure. They abound in pathetic incident, and displays of deep feeling. They are faithful records of those "little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind," that fill up the principal drama of human life; and which are engendered by the love of power, the appetite for wealth, the allurements of pleasure, the delusions of self-interest, the melancholy perversion of talent, and the machinations of fraud. They give us the skilful debates at the bar, and the elaborate opinions on the bench, delivered with the authority of oracular wisdom. They become deeply interesting, because they contain true portraits of the talents and learning of the sages of the law.
We should have known but very little of the great mind and varied accomplishments of Lord Mansfield, if we had not been possessed of the faithful reports of his decisions. It is there that his title to the character of "founder of the commercial law of England," is verified. A like value may be attributed to the reports of the decisions of Holt, Hardwicke, Willes, Wilmot, De Grey, Camden, Thurlow, Kenyon, Sir William Scott, and many other illustrious names, which will be as immortal as the English law.
Nor is it to be overlooked as a matter of minor importance, that the judicial tribunals have been almost uniformly distinguished for their immaculate purity. Every person well acquainted with the contents of the English reports, must have been struck with the unbending integrity and lofty morals with which the courts were inspired. I do not know where we could resort, among all the volumes of human composition, to find more constant, more tranquil, and more sublime manifestations of the intrepidity of conscious rectitude. If we were to go back to the iron times of the Tudors, and follow judicial history down from the first page in Dyer to the last page of the last reporter, we should find the higher courts of civil judicature, generally, and with rare exceptions, presenting the image of the sanctity of a temple, where truth and justice seem to be enthroned and to be personified in their decrees.
OF THE PRINCIPAL PUBLICATIONS ON THE COMMON LAW.
THE reports of adjudged cases are admitted to contain the highest and most authentic evidence of the principles and rules of the common law; but there are numerous other works of sages in the profession, which contribute very essentially to facilitate the researches, and abridge the labour of the student. Those works acquire by time and their intrinsic value, the weight of authority; and the earlier text books are cited and relied upon as such, in the discussions at the bar and upon the bench, in cases where judicial authority is wanting.
One of the oldest of these treatises is Glanville's Tracta- Glanville. tus de Legibus Angliæ, composed in the reign of Henry II. It is a plain, dry, perspicuous essay on the ancient actions, and the forms of writs then in use. It has become almost obsolete, and useless for any practical purpose, owing to the disuse of the ancient actions; but it is a curious monument of the improved state of the Norman administration of justice. It is peculiarly venerable, if it be, as it is said, the most ancient book extant upon the laws and customs of England. It has been cited, and commented upon, and extolled, by Lord Coke, Sir Matthew Hale, Sir Henry Spelman, Selden, Blackstone, and most of the eminent lawyers and antiquaries of the two last centuries. Mr. Reeves says, that he incorporated the whole of Glanville into his history of the English law.
Bracton wrote his treatise De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Bracton. Angliæ, in the reign of Henry III., and he is said to have been a judge itinerant in that reign, and professor of law at
Oxford. He is a classical writer, and has been called, by a perfect judge of his merits, the father of the English law, and the great ornament of the age in which he lived. His work is a systematic performance, giving a complete view of the law in all its titles, as it stood at the time it was written; and it is filled with a copious and accurate detail of legal learning. It treats of the several ways of acquiring, maintaining, and recovering property, much in the manner of the institutes of Justinian. The style is clear and expressive, and sometimes polished; and it has been imputed to the influence of the civil and canon law, which he had studied and admired; and the work evinces, by the freedom of the quotations, that he had drank deep at those fountains.
Sir William Jones says, he is certainly the best of our juridical classics, though he is perfectly aware that Bracton copied Justinian almost word for word. In the reign of Edward I., Bracton was reduced into a compendium by Thornton, which shows, says Selden,' how great the authority of Bracton was in the time of Edward I. He continued to be the repository of ancient English jurisprudence, and the principal source of legal authority, down to the time of the publication of the institutes of Lord Coke.
Staunforde, in his Pleas of the Crown, published about the time of Philip and Mary, bears strong testimony to the merits and to the authority of Bracton. It is stated in Plowden, that neither Glanville nor Bracton were to be cited as authorities, but rather as ornaments to the discourse, and in several other books the same thing was said. But Mr. Reeve, in his history of the English law, justly vindicates
a 4 Reeves' History of the English Law, 570.
b Dissertation annexed to Fleta, ch. 2. s. 1.
c P. 357, 358.
d 1 Show. 118. 11 St. Tri. 143.
e Vol. 4. p. 570, 571.